State Bar Members Exercise Union Power
Last year, SEIU Local 1000 added our newest bargaining unit, the State Bar, to the roster of represented public employees that we represent. “We are the newest DLC officially added as of Fall 2019 to SEIU 1000,” said Raquel Hines, SEIU Local 1000 member and DLC 850 president. “While we are not technically state employees, we’re an arm of the Supreme Court of California funded by the licensing fees from attorneys and the Bar Exam.”
Due to their unique position among public employees, the State Bar has been operating slightly differently than other units for a long time. “We negotiate our contract directly with our management,” said Hines, “but otherwise we are very similar — we are a government job and we have to follow the same daily rules.”
The State Bar has about 430 represented positions across two offices and the members negotiated a new MOU in March 2020 shortly after we entered shelter-in-place. This negotiation resulted in a powerful contract that included provisions for expanding hiring. “Ironically, we have taken on a lot of new employees during COVID-19,” said Hines. “Our new employee orientations happen every other week, with 3-4 new employees coming on.”
This increase in hiring has proven to be a huge asset to the State Bar and its employees, not only for the security provided by a union job during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also to help solve some extremely long-standing issues the Bar has faced.
“Every year we have to have our Fee Bill approved through the State Legislature,” said Hines. This process, which provides some oversight to State Bar management, has meant that the Bar has not had a fee increase in over 20 years, limiting their funding and preventing their offices from meeting ever-rising demands of a growing number of attorneys across the state. “A major issue SEIU 1000 successfully fought for was to help support our hiring process,” Hines said. “The Office of Chief Trial Counsel (OCTC), has been deeply understaffed for a long time, and because it investigates lawyers for misconduct and unethical professional conduct, the OCTC is the essential office for the Bar. We have had a backload of cases and this money has helped us expand and ensure that we could take these cases on.”
State Bar employees are considered essential workers and the majority of employees are fully remote. Since the Bar Exam is fully online this year, they are facing a new challenge that will bring together more support by being part of a larger labor family. “We believe joining SEIU 1000 will be beneficial to us,” said Hines. “We’ve been working on our own with limited resources for so long: we will be able to contribute new ideas to our Union while we are able to make full use of our Union’s resources.”
This new set of resources and rapid new hires are all part of the renewed focus on supporting the important work done by State Bar employees. “We are focusing on onboarding new employees and trying to learn the ropes and the resources available to us as members of Local 1000,” said Hines. “We want to let everyone know about the role the State Bar employees play in the issues throughout California, including our work with organizations SEIU 1000 supports, like the Poor People’s Campaign.”